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Flower of Devotion

Fire Talk

Jul 17, 2020 Dehd
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Dehd is a band of paradoxes; they’re rock stars minus the glitz and glam, with a stipped down sound that includes only the bare essentials — a guitar, bass, drum, and the occasional synth. They laugh in the face of grief while marinating in their own despair to produce an album that feels like a gossamer sunrise shining over a hole-in-wall bar. Most noticeably, their incomparable genius is criminally underrated — but not for long. On their third full-length LP, Flowers of Devotion, Emily Kempf, Jason Balla and Eric McGrady embrace the two sides of a tarnished coin and cash it in for gold.

The Chicago-based band hit the studio back in April and August of 2019, a whole month before their second album, Water, was even released. Water was famously written after Balla and Kempf ended their five year relationship, but in a true ironic Dehd fashion, this breakup made Dehd all the more stronger as the twangy guitars, loose drums, and floating harmonies formed a sweet and sour classic. Flowers of Devotion by no means replaces that charming earnestness, but it’s obvious that in this go-around the band was more deliberate, inducing a tighter, crisper production by way of Jason Balla who has produced every album thus far.

Like the band itself, the album is full of paradoxes that challenge established binaries. They look into the black and white sides of love but then meander, even relish, in the grey areas that permeate a fraught relationship. On the cover of the record are two masks: comedy and tragedy. These are emotions, better yet, types of stasis, that continuously spar, but are often caught holding each other’s red hands. It’s easy to read the album as a tell-all of the relationship between the two primary songwriters, but that would be too easy and outright diminutive. Like a “Flower of Devotion,” relationships, of any kind, aren’t only matured in the pouring rain; you also need sunlight.

The album begins with one long strum, a brief moment of silence, and then the drums kick in to chug the song along. Kempf grabs your attention with a shaking yelp: “Baby I love you / always thinking of you.” But, Balla then protests: “But I still see you with fire in your eyes / Seen you walking, I know it’s goodbye.” Many Dehd songs work in this call-and-response fashion. Sometimes it feels like you’re a child of divorce witnessing your parents forcefully hash it out. Other times, you can directly place your finger on a line, such as “I was walking ‘round, you were talking loud /Couldn’t quite make the words that were coming out of your mouth” from “No Time,” that caused the cookies to crumble. It’s a constant he-said she-said with vocal harmonies laying on one another until you can’t even pinpoint who said what — and it consistently works. The end of “Desire” shows this with a scream breakdown of “let me out“ and “desire” soaring in crescendo.

The album then moves to “Loner,” one of the singles of the album. Kempf seems to be removing herself from the previous bloodbath admitting she “want(s) nothing more than to be a Loner,” capital L. Electronic drums (an interesting new addition in the Dehd repertoire) give the song a nose up in the air mood. Who needs you? She seems to challenge. I have me, myself and I — so fuck off. But, we then continue with the cyclical good vs. evil, happy vs. sad rotation of tracks. This feeling is crystallized on the cheeky “Haha,” that includes a lot of “ahhs” and either tongue clicks or unknown source percussion. “All I know is I love you / All I know is cry, cry, cry” Kempf states. But in the bridge Balla cheers: “It’s on, it’s on, it’s on” but is met with his counter parts contrary “It’s off, it’s off, it’s off.” Thus, we’re back to the vacillating moments that are strong enough to give you vertigo.

It isn’t all fun though, there are moments of almost masochistic nostalgia (although I dare to argue most nostalgia is masochistic). On “Month,” which is easily the best track, Balla leads the reverb, surfy track by luxuriating in a memory tied to the warmer season: “This never ending new summer feeling,” he sings. But soon Kempf joins at the apex with a higher harmony, and the hit of a tambourine, “it comes and it goes.” This glorious melody rises then falls until its just Balla and his guitar “it comes and it goes.” Like the seasons, the happiness of what once was fades — no matter how hard you try to cling on to it.

Another more melancholy moment is “Apart,” a song written and song by drummer McGrady (the first time he’s ever done so on a Dehd album!). He laments on growing old and feeling exhausted while the whole band chimes in with “I feel myself falling apart,” sunny riffs and bouncy percussion. Despite the song’s directive, it’s an exciting moment to zoom out from the two leads and truly examine how the band quite seamlessly works as a threesome.

It’s hard to refrain from spoiling each song as they’re all their own interestingly composed tracks that carry their own collection of winks, sighs, and shrugs. The only maybe downside is the minimalism of the album might come off a bit tired. But for the Dehd-heads — is that trademarked?— the album proves just how good of a band they really are, paradoxes and all. (http://dehd.horse/)

Author rating: 8/10

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